Jim Norman may be acting low-key, but his first major proposal in the Florida Legislature sure isn't

There have been lots of articles written about Florida rock star, er U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in his first few months in office, most along the lines of how he's employing a Hilary Clinton like beginning to his career in Washington, keeping his head down and eschewing any high profile national television interviews.

Now let's move to Tallahassee, where Jim Norman is currently under investigation by the feds for that "gift" that his benefactor, the late Ralph Hughes gave to Norman's wife Mearline for her $435,000 vacation house in Arkansas (that will be followed up by the Ethics Commission in Tallahassee, according to CL blogger George Niemann). You would think he'd want to keep it low key, and in fact, he has relatively so in the first weeks of the regular session.

However, a bill (SB 1256) that he introduced last week would make it a felony to take a picture of a farm without the owner's permission is getting all sorts of attention, maybe not in Tallahassee, but throughout the country.

On Wednesday, Wayne Pacelle, the President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, wrote a post on his blog called "Lights, Camera, Cover-up?"in which he wrote about Norman's bill and a similar proposal floating in Iowa right now.  Pacelle said it will not only be a setback for animal welfare, but would also deleteriously affect food-safety in the U.S.

With a potentially dramatic pare-back of funding for federal inspections of animal-agriculture operations looming, at production and slaughter facilities, these new proposed policies to bar the exposure of unhealthy and unsafe practices could not come at a more inopportune time. The industry has long argued for self-regulation, and with government inspection programs stretched so thin, they now want no meddling animal advocacy groups looking either.

Our exposés aren’t just important for raising public awareness about the mistreatment of animals. HSUS investigations have led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history, misdemeanor and felony cruelty convictions, closure of rogue slaughter plants, and disciplinary actions for government inspectors not doing their jobs. None of these important services we fulfill would be possible if such far-reaching and stifling laws are enacted.

It's precisely because of what past factory farm investigations have uncovered—cruelty at egg farms, pig farms, and other settings—that such exposés are critical to the movement for animal welfare and food safety. With some members of the agriculture industry, including Dr. Temple Grandin, calling for more transparency at animal-raising facilities, these bills run in the opposite direction, seeking to criminalize efforts even to take a picture or to produce a video. They want to criminalize whistle-blowers who bring abuses to the attention of regulatory agencies, or even snap a photo on a cell phone.

I can understand why factory farmers don’t want the public seeing images of their business practices. The images of almost featherless hens, so crowded the animals are living on top of each other, or pigs being struck with metal bars by workers coarsened to their duties are deeply disconcerting. The response should not be, as in some country ruled by a dictator or a junta, to have the strongmen grab the cameras and smash them to the ground or melt them in a fire, as the authorities do in order to hide the beating and shooting of pro-democracy advocates. It's the same principle at work for the strongmen in these state legislatures. Their scheme is a neater way to smash those cameras to the ground and hide what's going on. Ironically, they want to prevent their very own customers, America's consuming public, from learning about the production practices that bring food to their tables and plates.

After liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias wrote about the bill last week, one commenter noted that "If this passes, will Google maps need to blur all satellite images of land zoned as agricultural in the state of Florida?"

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